The Human Face Of Marketing

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Most people have the perception that marketing is about selling to customers, the 4Ps (product, price, place, promotion), and profit – a concept which has evolved through years of observing customers.

We now understand that by producing in large quantities and selling at a low price, one need not guaranteed sales. Market forces have rejected the economies of scale theory to a certain extent.

Businesses realise that competing on price will only get themselves into the commodity trap. Profits will eventually fade off, the business will start to fall. So how can marketing assist a company to sail through the harsh market environment?

The answer lies in the capability of the marketer to connect the dots between the company and the market. Both the company and the market are entities without any connection. Thus, to connect these entities, a marketer will need to match the attributes of both entities.

However, the connection may not last long as the attributes change over time. Sales might surge during a marketing campaign period. But, once the campaign is over, both the company and the market are no longer connected, causing a fall in sales. As emotional connection never exists among such entities, loyalty hardly develops. This is a case of unsustainable marketing.

To ensure the dots are always connected, the marketer needs to build both associative and emotional relationships between the company and the market. To do so, we will first need to translate the human side of these entities. It sounds absurd, but that is how a relationship is built over time.

With reference to the etymological interpretation of the word “marketing”, we note that marketing is to connect the seller (who plays a role in the “sale”) and the buyer (who plays a role in the “market”) in a specific space (i.e. marketplace). And it must be realised that both seller and buyer are in fact, human. And that space in a hologram and it will not exist if either the seller or the buyer does not exist. Thus, marketers must understand that they are not dealing with the marketplace per se, but humans who are playing the roles of sellers and buyers.

A classic example would be the taste tests involving nearly 200,000 consumers in the mid-1980s which led Coca-Cola to change its 99-year old formula. “New Coke” was launched on April 23, 1985. The launch is to cope with the intensified market competition and the fact that Coca-Cola was losing consumer preference and awareness. However, instead of reviving Coca-Cola’s sales, “New Coke” received complaints and protests from the existing Coca-Cola lovers.

Pressured by consumers, Coca-Cola brought back the original formula and re-launched it as Coca-Cola Classic on July 11, 1985. This is a classic case [of a company being blind] to the emotional attachment of existing consumers. The study failed to acknowledge the bonding between consumers and Coca-Cola and see the brand as if it were human.

In the 21st century, marketing may no longer be just about sales, 4Ps, and profit, which is driven by the marketplace. It is heading towards a more humanistic view of the business.

To build an effective downstream approach marketing plan, a marketer needs to challenge the existing market assumptions and connect to the human side of the business. To do so, it requires special training with a set of guiding principles. It may or may not involve a high level of education.

Marketers need to see themselves as a professional and not just as implementers of sales and marketing tactics. Most importantly, a marketer should not be viewed as a salesperson but a professional.

Educational institutions, professional bodies, and training centres may need to revisit their teaching pedagogy in marketing courses in order to assist graduates to be a professional marketer who knows what it means to be human. The role of an institution, therefore, should be to transmit and not just transfer the proper marketing knowledge to the new breed of marketers.

Also, if a marketer believes that marketing is a job, he will do no more than what is required from him. But if the marketer believes that marketing is a profession, he will be governed by a set of principles. As marketing is not regulated like the accounting and legal professions, then the marketer needs to govern himself. It all has to start from within.

This article was first published on The Edge Financial Daily.

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